Many people are lost when it comes to what they should be eating before and after a workout. In my opinion these ‘meals’ are the most important and need to be practiced in order to get the best results from your workout. Before I became a personal trainer I had no idea that there were specific foods that should be eaten before and after exercise.
“In order to understand what to eat and drink, you need to understand what you are “recovering” from. When you exercise, muscle membrane breaks down on a microscopic level and there are mico-tears of muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Healing (and minimizing post-event muscle soreness) depends on having amino acids in your body to re-build the protein in these structures. One also should replenish carbs and fats that were used to provide energy. Therefore, a good diet all week that includes these food groups is important, as is a good pre-workout (or pre-race) meal.” (from AskTheRunningDoc on RunnersWorld.com)
So in order to go all out at the gym or wherever your decide to workout, you need to eat right!! But what you eat before and after your workout depends on the activity you chose to do. Food is like fuel for your body. And, like gas in your car, the longer the journey the more gas you’re going to need. So, if your workout is longer or more intense, you’re going to need different types and amounts of food.
Here are some guidelines for pre and post workout nutrition:
The most important thing you should consume before and after a workout is WATER!
Skipping meals is a NO NO-this is a huge mistake as your workouts will start to take away from carbohydrate and muscle (protein) resources that you already have.
If you are practicing yoga…
BEFORE/PRE: Though yoga can be difficult, it’s generally lower impact than certain other types of exercise. It’s also good for your digestion, so there’s less concern about upsetting your stomach. For a morning yoga class, for example, you want to eat fibrous like a whole grain toast/cereal perhaps or yogurt – Greek or traditional – with fresh berries. Some protein will help build muscles and healthy fats are great, but also that fiber content will further promote digestion and won’t weigh you down. Something heavier will take more time for your body to breakdown and digest, so it won’t be as fuel efficient.
AFTER/POST: You want to replenish after a workout, so try a piece of fruit or an all natural fruit juice. But then – again if it’s morning – you’ll want to have a healthy, simple snack that won’t make you nauseous like an egg white omelette, while your body is still burning calories. It will help build more muscle
If you are heading out for a run/cardio session…
BEFORE: Before you go out for your run/hit the elliptical, you don’t want to eat food that might make you nauseous as your stomach is jostled. Because of the physicality of the exercise, you’ll need a little more energy, but you don’t want a heavy meal. For a morning run/cardio session some people can do it on an empty stomach but if not try a protein shake or bar if you must. For a midday cardio workout, eat a healthy snack beforehand and your actual lunch afterward. Again, high-fiber foods break down well, so eat a banana, trail mix or an energy bar. You mainly need energy and you’re going to get that from healthier carbs, fruits, grains and good fats like nuts.
AFTER: For lunch, after your workout, choose a salad with mixed greens and some lean protein like chicken breast or grilled fish. Stay away from bottled dressings or anything that has high fat content (make your own!). You’ve worked your metabolism up and your muscles are hungry, so it’s going to absorb that protein right into your muscles. If you eat high fat or processed foods, your body won’t know what to do with them and all that wonderful calorie-burning metabolism you’ve built up, will actually get slowed back down. Another good choice after a cardio workout is a protein shake with a piece of fruit.
If you are doing a strength training workout…
BEFORE: Eat 2 to 3 ounces of protein before you work out and, again, stay away from heavy meals. Your muscles are going to be working extra hard, so they need that type of food to sustain you throughout the workout. Your body is using all those resources, so you need to introduce them back in. Portion control is also really important because, if you consume too much, your muscles will focus on digesting that food instead of the workout (bet you didn’t know that eh?)
AFTER: After a good strength training workout, eat 4 to 6 ounces of protein and healthy grains like brown or Basmati rice. Stay away from heavier starches like potatoes and reward your body with yummy pieces of grilled fish or shrimp and vegetables. For a balanced meal, it’s very important to include high fiber veggies with your protein.
Hopefully this is helpful to those of you who are struggling to decide what to eat before and after your workouts. The next time you want to ‘reward’ yourself after a workout with [insert unhealthy food here] you will have the will-power (and knowledge) to say NO and choose a healthy option!
I went for a run as soon as I woke up this morning (on an empty stomach) and made my favourite post run smoothie when I got back. It is so simple but so good (and full of all the nutrients that need be replenished after a run or any other workout).
1-2 cups of almond milk and/or water
1 cup of frozen fruit (your choice but I like mixed berries best!)
1 scoop of vanilla whey protein powder
Mix in a blender (or Magic Bullet like I have) until everything is blended and smooth.
Pour in a glass and ENJOY!
Feel free to share your thoughts on pre/post workout nutrition. I would love to hear about your favourite (healthy) snacks and meals!